Less than a year after being created, the Air Force’s new information warfare command has finalized its organizational structure and has reached the milestone known as full operational capability, its commander said July 15.
Sixteenth Air Force/Air Forces Cyber, created in October, combined what was previously known as 24th and 25th Air Force. The move placed cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare and weather capabilities under one commander, serving as the Air Force’s first information warfare entity. The new organization has an expansive mission that includes serving air components and combatant commanders across the globe in intelligence while also working as the Air Force component to U.S. Cyber Command and the Air Force component to the NSA.
The entity was created to help the Air Force fight against adversaries in the so-called gray zone or competition space, where operations often fall short of armed conflict.
“In partnership with Air Combat Command as our lead [Major Command], we have now established the structure of the organization,” Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, 16th Air Force’s commander, told a webcast hosted by the Mitchell Institute. “That foundational component of building an information warfare operational staff that executes all of our component functions. We organized that staff really consistent with what a [joint task force] looks like.”
Part of the difficulty in integrating elements was that some areas – such as intelligence or electronic warfare – had been intentionally stovepiped, Haugh said, as a way to ensure compliance with law and policy. As a result, the command worked with lawyers to ensure new roles and responsibilities consistent with polices and oversight.
In addition, Haugh said the command met all of Air Combat Command’s requirements on Monday to be fully operational capable.
The importance of convergence
One key focus for 16th Air Force, Haugh explained, is covergence, which involves leveraging the global nature of the command and merging the data throughout all its elements to generate outcomes. He said officials are now considering what problems need to be addressed by air components and combatant commands and what can 16th Air Force elements do to help.
But convergence in the information environment is complex.
“How do we organize ourselves around problems that also [don’t] constrain us by the geography? Because in many cases, that information that’s available to us will not necessarily be collocated with the adversary we’re targeting,” he said. “It’s taking advantage of our global access, our global access to the data and unique authorities, whether that’s intelligence authorities or the role that we play as a cyber component or the capabilities that we now stood up from an information warfare and an [information operations] perspective. How those come together and integrate are the outcomes that we are producing and will produce with our partners.”
Those partners could be the Department of State, a combatant commander, an air component, the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI.
“That’s the area, for us, that we think will be the secret sauce of 16th Air Force is how we integrate those functions together while enabling outcomes from our partners but also being able to execute the things that we’re responsible for,” he said.
New levels of coordination
Haugh explained that 16th Air Force has started creating several new elements as a way to improve planning and integration with other military organizations. For example, he said the 16th has created a J-39, which acts as the focal point for coordinating information operations with the joint staff and other combatant commands.
This role is necessary to help air components and combatant commands work togethers, especially given every information operations entity across the world understands the roles and functions of a J-39.
Additionally, 16th Air Force repurposed some resources from the two numbered Air Forces to create new information warfare planning units that have led to information warfare cells. The first of these cells, will integrate information operations and cyber feeding up to U.S. Cyber Command.
This unit will propose outcomes and capabilities for operations, focusing specifically on solving strategic problems, such as countering disinformation as a way to address foreign interference and malign influence, officials have said.
The second information warfare cell is tied closely with the air components at European and Indo-Pacific Commands.
While billets have been assigned to the cells, they have not hired all the personnel yet.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.